I read some reflections of a woman whose family immigrated from India to the US many years ago. The woman was only a few months old when they arrived so has no real memory of India or the move, but she described her parent’s experience. For decades after bringing their family to a new country in the hope of better opportunities and a better life, they were still caught in the ‘in-between’. They felt restless to her, as they sought a place to belong and to ‘become’ whoever it is they could or would be in this new land. This ‘becoming’ was caught between, on one hand, the nostalgia and experience of being Indian, of the heritage, culture and expectations that were deeply part of who they were (added to this were the looks and expectations of those in the new country who saw them as ‘other,’ as different and often treated them so). On the other hand, they had hopes and dreams of what might or could be and life drifted endlessly between these extremes. Ultimately, it was this hope that stirred them to look forward and embrace the sacrifices, struggles, difficulties and discomfort that became the path through which they lived and moved, struggled and strived to achieve this life they dreamed of for their family. This hope and promise kept them looking forward and moving in that direction, despite the many obstacles.
Isn’t this a story for all of us in some way or another? Not that most of us are immigrants to new countries but we do migrate into new phases and paths in life. We make decisions for the future, sometimes grounded in the past but more often seeking to transcend a past and move into the next phase of life and a brighter, or even brighter, future. Don’t we make sacrifices for our children, seeking new opportunities in an emerging world that feels so different from that which we have grown in and embraced for ourselves? We choose new paths, new careers, new possibilities in the hope that something bigger and better may emerge. Sometimes we are thrust into situations where we have to decide, to choose a path from two or more options. Sometimes there is no choice because the momentum and force of life thrusts us into the new and we find ourselves in the relentless thrust of living.
Living in the hope and promise of something without the certitude of being able to guarantee the outcome we want or expect, is the nature of faith. Faith obviously requires some element of trust or belief in someone or something on which we lay the promise, the hope. It may be the belief in possessions or power, fame or fortune. It may be education or enlightenment, technology or ‘truth’ (of some form or another). The list of possible trustworthy options is endless, and faith of some description is required for us to trust a particular path and live in expectant hope and promise. Such faith takes us beyond blind belief or sure certitude – an exercise of the mind that seeks to know and define, control and order. This is not a mind exercise, but a life lived. It is about pouring our life and living into something we will give ourselves to in the hope that it has the power to deliver against that hope, that promise, our faith. Sometimes it does and sometimes we are left with empty longing and lost in a hope unfulfilled. The family above trusted in the life they heard of and believed in from stories and people in the US. They trusted that there would be a place for them, and their family and it was worth placing their hope in this promise, this belief and they did. It seems that their faith was justified but, of course it took much hard work, struggle and restless longing and striving.
This week there are stories of people who know this longing, the looking forward with a nostalgic past in their minds. In the great chapter on faith (Hebrews 11) we hear of Abraham who was invited to journey to a new land. He left the familiar and journeyed into the unknown to a place he didn’t know and made his home as a stranger, a foreigner. He was invited to ‘look into the future’ and imagine the land before him as the home of his descendants, a rugged, untamed land that was foreign and new. On top of this invitation to dream was the stark reality that he had no children and his wife had been unable to bear children – what descendants? What future? What hope? On what would this invited promise be based? Who was this ‘God’ who called and invited? What was this path into an unknown, unsubstantiated future? What would or could possibly happen if he placed one foot in front of the other and began the long walk into the mysterious future?
The story goes on. Abraham saw the land, but it was not filled with his descendants in his lifetime – that was for a long, long time into the future. He journeyed believing a voice from a God he couldn’t see or touch or feel, but who felt close, even within him. The voice of deep resonating love and truth that comes in the dark moments when we are open to hearing. Too many times the voice speaks into an empty, abandoned silence, a heart that wants certainty of belief, assuredness of success and a definitive, controlled outcome, sign, sealed and delivered. Other times the voice encounters cynicism, weariness and confusion. We find it hard to believe, to trust and to put our life into something so unsure and unclear. The world is a harsh and chaotic place. We need security, not uncertainty. We need safety not reckless faith in something that calls more from us than we can believe we have.
Those who live into this faith find they are drawn along in the flow of a river of wonder. It takes us to places we never imagined and to do things that, in our own strength or imagination, may never seem possible or likely. We venture into a place of possibility, hopes and dreams, a journey into a future that might be. This isn’t certitude but faith that takes us into such places because we put our lives in the metaphorical hands of this God in whom we live and move and have our being.
Jesus invites us to be ready (Luke 12:32-40), watchful and expectant that God will break into our ordinary existence with extraordinary grace and love. We are invited to live with expectation, hope and faith because God is. The One who is the source and life of everything is surely to be trusted but we are required to let go of our need to know, to define, to control. Faith puts its hope and trust in this God, even without our knowing the whole way or necessarily seeing the fullness of the outcomes. It is the impossible possibility of belief and hope against all the odds and that which we see before us. We live and grow into this faith through a faithful, trusting life that abandons all into the restless, relentless journey that challenges us to be more than we ever dreamed of being and to do more than we ever believed we might.
Abraham left everything he knew and ventured out into an unknown, unimaginable future in faith. His life opened into the unusual, wondrous paths that may never have materialised if he had opted for security and certainty.
What about you?